If two state lawmakers get their way, grocery store clerks won’t be asking people if they want paper or plastic after 2019.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, and Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, unveiled a proposal Wednesday in Seattle for a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags. They plan to introduce a bill in the Legislature next year in response to environmental concerns about the bags.
In addition to banning plastic bags, the proposal would impose a 10-cent fee on paper and compostable bags, with the goal of steering customers to using reusable bags when they go shopping.
“Right now, there are more than 86 million metric tons of plastic in our oceans, and the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash for every foot of coastline spills into the oceans annually,” Ranker was quoted as saying in a news release issued Wednesday.
The Northwest Grocery Association, as well as a Yakima-area grocer, support the proposal, because they said it would create a consistent set of rules statewide governing plastic bags.
“We as a grocery industry have been looking at statewide issues rather than having each town do that,” said Chris Brown, president of Wray’s Marketfresh IGA. “We support it from that standpoint.”
Lawmakers are still working out the details of the bill, which could be introduced as early as next month, when the prefiling period opens.
Advocates of bag bans say plastic sacks are made from non-renewable petroleum products, clog machinery at recycling plants and wind up in the ocean, where they can break down into smaller pieces that can leach toxic chemicals and endanger fish.
“Plastic has been documented in nearly 700 species of marine life, including gray whales found washed up on the shores of the Salish Sea,” Erin Meyer, director of conservation programs and partnerships at the Seattle Aquarium, was quoted as saying in the news release.
More than 20 communities, mostly on the west side of the Cascades, have adopted ordinances either banning or taxing plastic bags. Ellensburg enacted an ordinance in 2016 that requires stores to charge a nickel for each plastic or paper bag used at a store.
Previous attempts to pass such measures statewide failed, including a plan to impose a statewide tax on plastic bags in the 2018 session.
Brown and Holly Chisa, spokeswoman for the Northwest Grocery Association, said a statewide law would create a level playing field for merchants.
“If the city of Yakima did one thing, and Selah did another, that would cause problems,” Brown said. “It’s going to happen, and we have to have it the same for everybody.”
Chisa said the bill would also help consumers, as the rules would be the same at all stores.
The bill would be modeled after local ordinances that require compostable bags to be tinted either green or brown to readily identify them, and would exempt plastic bags used for produce, newspapers, dry cleaning, small pieces of hardware, prescriptions, frozen foods, meat, flowers and potted plants, according to Senate staff.
People using food stamps or other food assistance would be exempt from the fee for the paper bags.
Kroger, the parent company of Fred Meyer, said earlier this year it plans to go plastic-bag free at all of its nearly 2,800 stores by 2025.